Monday, December 11, 2006

"Blood Diamonds"

With the release of the new major motion picture "Blood Diamond" public awareness of the issue of conflict diamonds will increase. If people are motivated to take a look at the facts, this will be a good thing. On the other hand, if they come away with the simplistic view that somehow diamonds are evil and that buying diamonds contributes to human misery, then Hollywood will have done the world a major disservice.

There is no disputing the horrific violence that was perpetrated by insurgent groups in Central and West Africa during the mid to late 1990's. By forcibly commandeering several diamond mining areas in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Decocratic Republic of Congo groups such as the RUF were able to wage war against their democratically elected governments. With the money raised by smuggling these diamonds into the world market, these warlords were able to perpetuate their reign of terror for several years. In the process, thousands of innocent people were killed and wounded and millions displaced.

As the crisis came to the attention of the world in the late 1990's thanks, in large part to non-governmental organizations (NGO s) such as Global Witness (GW) and Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), leaders from government and industry came together to deal with the problem. In 2000 a conference was held in South Africa under the auspices of the United Nations and a plan was devised to cut off the ability of the insurgents to market their diamonds.

The Kimberly Process Cerfification Scheme (KP) was developed out of this meeting and was implemented in 2003. It's effectiveness is largely responsible for the fact that these bloody conflicts have ended. Today it is estimated that less than 1% of diamonds in circulation are illicit.

Three basic facts must be understood in order to formulate a balanced and rational view on the issue of "blood diamonds". First, it is a problem that the world confronted several years ago and is being successfully dealt with. Second, it was a relatively isolated problem occurring in a few localized diamond mining areas. The vast majority of diamonds are mined around the globe in tightly controlled environments that were never part of the problem. And third, the worst thing consumers can do today is to stop buying diamonds, particularly diamonds from Africa.

All the parties to the KP are committed to a zero tolerance policy and all agree that work remains to be done to continue to pressure governments to strengthen enforcement. But the overarching need today is for redevopment of minining communities and societies devastated by the conflicts.

Diamond revenues are critical to rebuilding infrastructure and to the future of these communities. For this reason , watchdog organizations such as PAC are alarmed that negative publicity surrounding the movie will cause a drop in diamond demand which will hamper efforts to help those people most affected by the violence. *Please see their section on "What You Can Do" and look to the bottom at "Some Bad Ideas".

In addition, drop in diamond demand will harm millions of people around the globe whose livelihoods depend on the diamond jewelry industry and who have had nothing whatsoever to do with conflict diamonds. The World Diamond Council website has detailed information on how diamond revenues impact communities around the world and contribute significantly to education and health care in some of the worlds poorest countries.

For additional perspective please see the article "A Discussion of Blood Diamonds" on the Gem Diamond company website.